McCaffrey sees bright future as young Dubs hitch wagon to hurling
WITH so much hype about Dublin's latest crop of dual jewels -- who played in both minor All-Ireland finals last year -- it is easy to forget that they're not the first good crop to come from the county in the past decade.
The man who leads their stickmen into hurling's hornet's nest in Portlaoise this evening was chief among them and has been at the vanguard of the county's recent hurling breakthrough.
Back in 2005 Johnny McCaffrey captained both the county minor footballers and hurlers.
Dublin's minors had lost the 2004 Leinster hurling final to Kilkenny, but a year later ousted them in the semi-finals and beat Wexford in the final to win their first provincial title in 22 years.
But a week later, McCaffrey got a rough landing when his football team were knocked out at the Leinster semi-final stage by Laois.
"We thought we had a better chance of going all the way with the football and winning the All-Ireland. We had a great team," McCaffrey recalls. "With the hurling, our expectations weren't as high, but it worked out the other way around."
Tomas Brady, Joey Boland, Ross O'Carroll, Conor McCormack and Shane Durkin were also on that breakthrough minor hurling team, which was coached by two young trainee teachers from Kilkenny, Willie Coogan and John Dermody.
"They were super lads to have. They were only in their mid-20s and we could relate to them, they knew hurling inside out," says McCaffrey.
The following year Tommy Naughton called him into the county senior panel, but it's fair to wonder why the Lucan Sarsfields dual star chose hurling to pursue at senior level and not football.
"I played a bit of U-21 football afterwards, but hurling was always my first love," he explains. "I always felt I was better at it than football and had a better chance of making the team on the hurling side."
Since then others have made a similar choice and McCaffrey clearly delights in that fact.
"That's the great thing now, that any minor or U-21 player that's playing both has a good option of which way to go," he enthused.
"When I came along the football was a lot stronger than the hurling, but lads now know there's quite a good team there and if you come to the hurling, you're going to have to fight really hard to (succeed)."
The 2005 minors may have made the breakthrough, but they had important successors. In 2007 another batch of U-18s won Leinster again, while their 2005 crew went all the way to the All-Ireland U-21 final.
To stop the Kilkenny juggernaut you must, at least, not fear them and, at most, believe you can beat them and such underage successes undoubtedly helped Dublin pull off last year's league final success.
McCaffrey, who works full-time as a coach, saw first-hand the effects of a bit of success and promotion, especially after last year's initial Spring Series.
At his club he noted the swell in juvenile turnouts in the mornings that followed and around the estates of Lucan, kids were suddenly carrying hurls in their hands.
"Mentors were telling me they'd never seen kids hurling on some of those greens before and that just really snowballed. When we won the league it got better and better. A lot of kids are aspiring to get on to the Dublin team which is brilliant."
Beating Kilkenny in the senior championship still remains the holy grail, but he clearly relishes taking on the game's standard-bearers. So, how will he approach the Cats today?
"If you're worrying about what they're doing or who you're marking, you're not going to concentrate on your own game," he says. "If you can get a touch on the ball early on or get a foothold, you have a good chance of making an impact on the game and that's what you want to do."